Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Azores - Sao Jorge

View from the top of Sao Jorge
Velas on Sao Jorge - July 26 -  27, 2012

Our visit to Sao Jorge started off following the pattern set on other Azorean islands. First drop anchor in the harbor at the town of Velas, and run in on the dink to walk the dogs and check out the marina and town. The next day move into the marina, hose the salt off Starlet, and nose around town visiting shops to replenish perishables.
Olympic Venue
One priority in Velas was to find a café with TV for Friday night’s Olympic opening ceremony. Watching the ceremony over dinner, we realized that this was the first time we had seen TV since leaving Bermuda six weeks prior. The US TV’s on Starlet won’t receive over the air broadcasts in Europe, so we’ve made the transition to getting our news on the web. We still can't get over the low prices here.  Our dinners with a bottle of wine, beer, 2 hot teas and ice cream was about $30 including the three hours of TV. No tax/no tip!

Tour guides - Carolina & Rui - July 28, 2012
Carolina & Rui
In the marina, we continued the constant process of maintaining Starlet, cleaning and waxing the exterior stainless steel. With a good internet connection, we got caught up on correspondence and were even able to stream some of the Olympics live! Late Saturday (after 10:30 – Mark was snoozing!) after Skyping with friends, Jennifer met a young local couple walking the marina docks. They wanted to meet the dogs, then spent a good hour chatting. Carolina was eager to refresh her English, having lived in Rhode Island for 12 years.  Rui, her boyfriend, understood most of the conversation but felt more comfortable using Carolina as a translator. This chance meeting set our visit to Sao Jorge apart from the norm: lucky for us Carolina & Rui took it upon themselves to show us their island and their Azorean lifestyle.

Limpets & Festival - July 29, 2012
The following evening, Carolina & Rui came by to make traditional Azorean limpets for us.  This is a shell fish that grows on rocks, kind of like a miniature abalone. They brought the limpets plus fresh garlic cloves, butter and a red pepper sauce.  Rui, who is attending culinary school, cooked two plates of them for us, then we went to the dock to pry off a couple more to try raw. Limpets are quite salty and chewy, but very good with the sauce, garlic and butter. It's Sunday night and way past our bedtime at 11:00 PM, but we headed out to a festival in Carolina & Rui’s village of Beria. This was a gathering of all ages with kids playing on swing sets and teeter totters, teenagers checking each other out, and adults chatting. Bright lights strung around the schoolyard, a band playing, vendors selling food and beer. We met Rui's Mother and Father at the festival, then dropped by Carolina's home (after midnight!) to meet her parents and pets.

Island Tour & Festival - July 30, 2012
The next day Carolina & Rui picked us up early to take us on a tour of the east end of the Sao Jorge.  From a high vantage point on the central ridge we could see Faial, Pico and Graciosa. We visited the Parquet Florestal das Sete Fontes (Seven Ponds Park) with a mini zoo that had deer, birds, ducks and a pair of Vietnamese potbellied pigs.  Midday we were invited to Rui's parents house for a heavy lunch.  The main house has four bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and dining room over 2 levels while across the drive they have a small "day house" with a kitchen and dining room plus a sofa and a TV. The houses overlook a huge vegetable garden, with a chicken house and a hog pen behind the garage.  

After an afternoon break on Starlet, Carolina & Rui picked us up that evening to take us to another celebration for the festival. A stage was set up in a parking lot by a dairy field, featuring singers improvising “cantares ao desafio” ballads of social critique. Horse rides for the kids, cotton candy and popcorn. The ever popular beer tent also offered grilled sausages and roast rabbit.  As a fundraiser, you can buy a bag with dozens of rolled up squares of paper.  Everyone works at unrolling them, searching for the lucky squares marked with numbers. Then it’s time to collect the prizes associated with the lucky numbers. Our group ended up with thirteen treasures ranging from perfume to needle work and dishes.

Cheese Factory & Bull on a Rope - July 31, 2012
The next day Jennifer visited a hair salon on the main street in Velas.  The owner didn't speak English but they went next door for a translator.  Jennifer was very pleased with the results.  The price . . . 15 Euros. 
Unloading milk
Carolina & Rui picked up us early that afternoon to take us to the cooperative cheese factory in Beira for a tour.  It was a large operation with 80 employees in a modern facility, one of 3 cooperatives on the island.  Each cooperative provides the economic base for its village, providing jobs and export income. The member dairy farmers need to deliver their milk twice daily, 365 days a year! At the end of the tour we bought some of the cheese made by each cooperative for a very good price.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the factory interior. 

Later we went back to Rui's house to get ready for the Tourada a Corda (Bull on a Rope), to be held in Beira that evening.  Rui’s mother was very busy as a volunteer making 150 donuts for the event. After forming blobs of dough into rings, they are fried, six at a time.  Dipped in sugar and cooled, they were boxed for delivery to the event bar. Just before the Tourada a Corda was to start we walked the main street in Beira inspecting the barricades being installed to protect people & property.     

Professional wranglers were contracted to bring in four bulls that ran the street one at a time for thirty minutes each. Very “brave” men, encouraged by beer, dared to get close but hopefully not too close to the bull. The bulls know their role: chase anyone they have a chance to catch! If that means jumping over a wall to chase someone through a field, so much the better! Thankfully no one was hurt and especially the bulls were not hurt.  It really was a lot more fun than anticipated.  After the Tourada a Corda we walked back to Rui's house for a lovely dinner with soup, a variety of baked meats plus a rice pudding dessert. 
Bulls can go everywhere

Back at the marina, we said good bye to Carolina & Rui.  Besides providing us with this unique look at Azorean life, they sent us off with a huge basket of potatoes and fresh eggs. The whole time they wouldn’t allow us to even put fuel in the car, and we had to fight to pay for a beer or coffee!  

On to Terceira - August 1, 2012
Before leaving the next morning, we had a quick catch up session with Bob and Janice from Tsamaya, a couple we had previously met in both Flores and Horta.  We then set off on a calm 52 nm run to Angra do Heroismo on the next Azore Island, Terceira.  On the way we passed by southeast Sao Jorge - the high central ridge and the prevailing winds create a very isolated and lush area.

View Starlet in the Azores in a larger map

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